Should You Air Grievances Via Paid Ads? – Views From Prabhakar

A recent phenomenon with several large Indian promoters has been to air their grievances with paid ads in the Media. Whilst the best way to fight out a battle in the press is through editorial, unfortunately, many Indian promoters finally seem to resort to paid ads in the media. Mr Subrata Roy of Sahara was quite well known to bring out a full page or on occasion double spread ads in the mainline newspapers, almost signed off by him.


Sahara’s full page ads against SEBI were challenged in the High Court. Lucknow-based Amitabh Thakur, an officer from the Indian Police Service (IPS) and social activist Dr Nutan Thakur filed a writ petition against Sahara India Pariwar and Subrata Roy for its strange full-page advertisements for ‘denigrating’ and abusing a statutory, self-regulatory body and a retired supreme court judge. The advertisements issued in almost every newspaper across the country followed the Securities and Exchange Board of India’s (SEBI) move to seek the detention of the Sahara group ‘chief worker’ Subrata Roy and key members of his team and to obtain certain clarifications from the Supreme Court.

The Tata Sons BoardRoom Battle

The recent Tata boardroom battle between Mr Ratan Tata which was being fought on the PR front with press statements and editorial coverage, suddenly changed gear when Tata Sons issued a full page advertisement as a rebuttal to Cyrus Mistry’s earlier communication via a press release.

When an ad like that appears in the mainlines dailies it does wash dirty linen in public. Until the ad, only the people interested in corporate news would read it in the papers. But when an ad like this appears even my wife reads it and she wonders what is wrong with the Tata Group. And instead of helping to absolve the advertiser from any guilt or wrong doing it, in fact, reiterates a suspicion that perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye. This closely follows the theory of Stimulus and Response. After all if one of the engines in a jet airplane have caught fire, and the pilot runs down the aisle telling everyone not to panic (take that as Stimulus) everybody is going to panic (Response). When an ad like this appears in Times of India, all their readers either read it or dismiss the ad as bad publicity. Because ads lack the credibility of the editorial. When you put an ad in the papers, everybody knows that someone paid for it.

But the strangest grievance to be aired during this month was November was an ad from Arun Nanda, Chairman and Managing Director of Rediffusion Y & R which tried to justify the PR fees for the Tata Group of Rs 60 crores. ( 1 crore =10 million )


In fact, when I saw the ad I was left baffled, wondering what it was that Cyrus Mistry said, that could provoke such a reaction. Naturally, I hit Google only to find that Mr Mistry had pointed out the fees paid to Edelman of Rs 60 crores annually, as one of the increases of costs at Tata Sons since the earlier PR agency Nira Radia’s Vaishnavi Communications (2G Scam fame) was only paid Rs 40 crores.

Again this ad provided unnecessary data that no one in the public would have known before the ad. Also imagine that a global brand like Edelman decides to fight their battle through ads rather than PR. It almost makes you think that they don’t believe in PR themselves.

Why should one not use paid ads to air Grievances?



Ads in the mainline dailies have enormous reach but the people reached are not the target audience. The ordinary housewife who reads this ad is really not interested in the spat between Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry or Arun Nanda and Cyrus Mistry. So you are reaching a public who is not interested in your spat.


When you read it in the Economic Times or Times of India business pages it is the opinion of a third party, in this case, the newspaper, biased as they may be. But when you put a paid ad, it is your opinion which is likely to be even more biased, since you are an interested party.


The editorial does not cost money. Ads do cost money, and a lot of it if I might say so.

Bad Targeting

When you put an ad in the newspapers you are reaching people who are not interested in your subject. Boardroom battles don’t make everybody’s day – certainly not the readers of Times of India.

But the question really is why do Indian promoters resort to running paid newspapers ads? Is it a show of strength most of the time? Is it an ego kick? Or is it a ‘mine is bigger than yours’ promoter meme working overtime, without thinking of the consequences? I personally think most of the time it is wasted time and money and a demonstration of bad corporate brand strategy.




About the Author:

Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad veteran with over 35 years of experience in Advertising and Marketing. He works as an independent consultant and is also Chief Mentor with Percept H. All previous posts of Prabhakar can be found here.